By Tamas Mondovics

Teens willing to evaluate driving skills and put them to the test under the supervision  of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputies, as well as learn to handle  vehicles in various emergency situations, can do so this summer by attending Sheriff  David Gee’s Teen Driver Challenge, routinely offered at the Walter C. Heinrich Practical Training Site in Lithia.

With motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for those ages 15-20 across the nation, Gee is pleased to once again offer a new safety program for teen drivers.

“Safety on the roadways is a priority of Sheriff Gee and he is committed to helping our youth get off to the best start behind the wheel,” said HCSO spokesman, Larry McKinnon.

The new program is called the Teen Driver Challenge, which according to HCSO officials, is supported by the Florida Sheriffs Association and is part classroom and part driving.

“Safety on the roads is everyone’s responsibility,” McKinnon said. “The Teen Driver Challenge is one way teens and parents can build the foundation for years of safe driving.”

Hillsborough County Sheriff Deputy and Teen Driver Challenge instructor, Paul Alessandri, explained that the two-day program is designed to provide young drivers with the knowledge and understanding of vehicle dynamics and human kinetics, which are the forces created by the automobile and the body.

“The objective of the program is to enhance the young driver’s awareness of the complex task of operating a motor vehicle and to create and practice skills that will prepare them to anticipate and handle hazards that occur daily in normal driving conditions, created by law enforcement professionals” Alessandri said.

“The curriculum was created around the fact that most crashes involving teenage drivers are classified as “avoidable” and are due to lack of experience or training,” he said. “Teens are not prepared to make the vehicle respond appropriately.”

While the education segment (defensive driving) of the program is designed to give the student a better understanding of the responsibilities and liabilities of the driver, vehicle dynamics, friction and the effects of intoxicating substances on their ability to operate the vehicle, the students will learn eight basic skills, actions and techniques of driving.

“We will address steering, acceleration, deceleration, backing up and off-road recovery,” Alessandri said. “Training exercises used in this program have been adopted from the law enforcement-training manual that is approved by the Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission.”

Instructors ride with each student and students move to the next exercise only after the instructor feels the student has demonstrated a reasonable degree of skill.

Each class is limited to 12 participants with an additional three-four on stand-by. A valid driver’s license (no restricted licenses) and a vehicle are required.

The classroom portion is held on July 18, from 6-10 p.m. at 2008 E. 8th Avenue, Tampa. The driving experience is conducted from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Walter C. Heinrich Practical Training Site at 14603 State Rd. 39 in Lithia.

To enroll, students can download the forms, some of which must be notarized. The program is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

Completed forms may be mailed or hand-delivered to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Attn: Crime Prevention Bureau P.O. Box 3371 Tampa, FL 33601.

For more information, contact the Sheriff’s Crime Prevention Bureau at 247-8115 or visit


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